Darwin’s enchanted isles are one of our planets most precious and unique ecosystems, home to an extraordinary profusion of exotic flora and fauna. The Islands retain a staggering 95% of their endemic species, a feat unparalleled on any other archipelago in the world. In 1959, a hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Species, Ecuador declared 97% of the Islands landmass a national park and in 2001, the marine reserve was established. Keeping Galapagos biologically pristine has been and continues to be, a constant and hard-waged battle. As a result in 2007, three decades after being designated the first World Heritage Site, UNESCO declared Galapagos as a World Heritage Site at risk. Keeping Galapagos biologically pristine has been and continues to be, a constant and hard-waged battle against potential dangers such as introduction of alien species, illegal fishing, unsustainable tourism, illegal migration and population growth. Galapagos was later removed from the list in 2010, but many conservationists feel this was done pre-maturely as the Islands still remain very much at risk.
In 2006, together with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Ecoventura, the Galapagos Marine Biodiversity Fund (GMBF) was established with the objective to strengthen the local communities’ ability to manage natural resources through environmental education with scholarships for local students and marine conservation to combat illegal fishing.
Since 2009, a total of 78 scholarships have been granted to local students to attend a two year technical career program at the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts & Sciences (GAIAS), part of the University of San Francisco de Quito’s Galapagos campus located on the Island of San Cristobal. In August 2009, the first graduating class of 14 students completed their studies in Environmental Management, Tourism Administration and Business Administration and received a University degree. In 2010, the fund provided scholarships for 9 students from different high schools in Puerto Ayora to attend an ecology course at Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
And in May 2013, ten students graduated. The objective is to develop the technical capacity and form community leaders to help manage conservation and be committed to conservation and sustainable development in the Galapagos Islands.
Funds from GMBF have also been allocated to benefit families of local fishermen by development of a micro-enterprise for the fisherman’s wives to manage. This will provide an alternate means of income and also set an example to create other tourism related businesses and reduce the need to fish. This particular Conservation International project involved converting a fishing boat into a restaurant and boutique. A 30-year lease was secured from the municipality and is located along the boardwalk along Wreck Bay on San Cristobal Island providing a service for tourists as well as benefiting community development.
Through the deployment of the Tiburon Martillo, a permanent floating station near the Islands of Wolf and Darwin, park rangers can patrol the area for illegal shark finning and long-line fishing activity within the protected marine reserve. The marine reserve surrounding these two remote Islands supports some of the planet’s most unique biodiversity and is one of the world’s premier diving areas. However, it has also been identified as the most threatened due to continued presence of industrial fishing boats. To date, park statistics demonstrate the highest number of fishing violations have occurred in this area. Hammerhead and other shark species around the world are being harvested primarily for their fins and the Galapagos Marine Reserve remains one of the last regions where these creatures can be seen gathered by the hundreds. It is vital to establish a local and permanent surveillance and patrolling platform that will deter illegal fishing vessels from entering these waters.
Because the Galapagos National Park lacks inadequate funding, trained personnel and equipment, it is challenged to prevent illegal fishing by industrial scale boats. In response, the GMBF together with WildAid supports the maintenance and repair of park patrol boats while also helping to make current small-scale fishing practices more efficient. Support was given to the GNP for the vessel Monitoring System (WMS) to control and patrol the Galapagos Marine Reserve and with COPESAN to monitor sea cucumbers during the 2009 and 2010 seasons and a shark tagging project jointly with the park and station.
In October 2010, Ecoventura Executive President, Santiago Dunn, was invited to serve a three-year term on the WWF National Council that meets twice a year in Washington DC. Ecoventura originally pledged a donation of $80,000 annually (in cash and kind services) for the first three years from 2007-2009 and then increased the pledge to $100,000 annually from 2010 to 2013. Since the fund’s inception, $308,270.00 in contributions have gone directly to the various projects they support.
Ecoventura has become A recognized leader in responsible tourism to the Galapagos Island through its core commitment to the on-going sustainability of this fragile and at-risk ecosystem.